By Avery Rogers
I had long ago declared economics as my major as I began my spring quarter of my sophomore year at Stanford. At the time, I was seriously considering pursuing a PhD in economics right out of undergrad, and I was advised by many economics faculty members that I should take a computer science class in Python, since many economists used the language for data analysis.
Never before in my life had I been interested in computer science. I enjoyed writing, psychology, public policy and any number of disciplines that would broadly fall into the category of “social sciences.” I ended up studying economics at Stanford because I loved Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and imagined myself on the road to behavioral science. Computer science, I believed, was orthogonal and even antithetical to my passion for questions about human nature and society.
I enrolled in CS106AP with the intention of picking up a useful skill and getting on with my life. Within two months, however, I realized that CS106AP was my favorite class, better even than the incredible health economics elective I was taking concurrently. CS106AP whispered in the back of my head during the day, and my code even entered my dreams at night – never before had I dreamt about class content. Annoying while I was trying to sleep, perhaps, but evidence that my brain was intrigued by the types of problems and problem-solving strategies used in computer science, even at the most elementary levels.
Over the summer, I spent many, many hours studying ahead for CS106B and reading my way towards a basic understanding of the current state of computer science, especially in AI. To my astonishment, the technical and ethical problems in computer science fascinated me as much, if not more, than my beloved social sciences. In fact, the big picture of computer science and Silicon Valley dealt with many of the same questions facing psychologists and philosophers, only with different implications and paths for action.
Rather than turn this article into a pitch for computer science – Stanford has plenty of momentum in that direction already – I’ll trace back to the central point: I am now a junior with a wildly new set of interests and postgrad aspirations. Remember (or notice, if you’re a freshman) how insistently they urged us to explore during our first year at Stanford? Well, I’m grateful to say that exploration need not end once you’ve left for your first Stanford summer; it need not end even after you’ve declared and nearly finished your major. Of course, senior spring is not the ideal time for academic revelations of this kind, but the clock ticks slower than you think.
Contact Avery Rogers at averyr ‘at’ stanford.edu.